Different countries have deliciously different approaches to television. When you hear the word, ‘sitcom’ you might think of 90s television from the US, with quintessential shows like Friends and Seinfeld coming to mind. When it comes to Japanese television, the media here is certainly not without its unique genres. Things like quirky gameshows have caught on and become quite popular abroad. Anime is probably the most emblematic genre around the world. But today, we’re going to focus on the wholesome little mini-series that many Japanese households use to start their day. Translated as morning dramas, the 朝ドラ asadora, is a truly special television program that is tied so much to the rhythm of everyday life. Often appearing on the national television station, NHK, the asadora is something that often plays in the background as families eat breakfast together, before the kids are whisked away to school and parents rush out of the door for work.
Asadora are aired on NHk from 8:00-8:15 every morning, (and then re-aired later in the afternoon). The dramas air from Monday to Saturday, and because they’re a short 15 minutes, they’re easy to follow and catch up on. NHK has been airing these dramas since 1961! However, not all the dramas recorded can be found, as tapes used to be regularly erased in the time before digitization. However, hundreds of dramas still exist (we’ll talk about this later) and it can be a fun sort of moment of slipping into the past to watch morning dramas from different periods of time in Japan’s history.
Curious to know a bit more about the asadora? We’ll talk about some of the trends of the drama, and if any of the following pique your interest, you might want to check one of them out!
Ohisama おひさま: Asadora and Historicization
The super popular drama Ohisama appeared in 2011. Like many asadora, Ohisama represents the trials and tribulations of a family living through World War II. World War II is one of the most common periods represented in period dramas, being the last wartime Japan experienced, and close in history and the experiences of many. The drama follows a young woman, in the show called Yoko-sensei, who begins as a high school student, grows into a strong young woman, eventually becomes a teacher and marries, and finally, opens a soba restaurant. The lead character is loved for her ability to overcome anything that comes her way and to smile through the hard times.
Here we see the star of the show, Mao Inoue, and the leading man (who she later marries) Kengo Kora. Asadora are a place where the image and fame of many a popular actress are cemented in popular culture. The asadora has the power to make household names in the blink of an eye.
New Trends in Dramas: Leading Actors From Abroad in Massan
Massan is a 2015 asadora that charmed the nation with its depiction of an international romance. The leading lady, with the character name of Ellie, or Eri, is in the story said to hail from Scotland. Real life actress Charlotte Kate Fox, comes from the US. The show caught special notice as it was the first ever to have someone from overseas play a lead character. (There has been both praise and criticism for this move, as some people say the representation of the experience of being a foreign wife in Japan is not accurate and is overly romanticized.) In the series, the title character Massan travels to Scotland, where he learns the art of whiskey brewing, and along the way, falls in love with and marries Eri. They return to Japan together in 1920, and the series begins with her adjusting to life in Japan and trying to find acceptance from Massan’s family. Whether or not the story appeals to you, it is an interesting look into the new trends appearing in Japanese popular culture and the general reaction of society.
The current morning drama on NHK: What Japan Is Watching Now, Check Out Yell
So what is Japan watching now? Of the three we’ve introduced, Yell is the most contemporary of the asadora. It just began to air the end of March, and is set to run through September. The drama follows a young banker named Yuichi Koyama. Though he works a white collar job, his true passion lies in music and he longs to be a professional composer. He meets and falls in love with Oto Sekiuchi. She shares his passion for music and dreams of someday making a career singing. (Note: she is a high school student when she meets him, so there is quite an age gap.). As the exchange letters, the build a relationship of trust and friendship, and soon fall in love. They later marry, and this is when the real adventures are set to begin. With the season just starting, there is plenty in store for the couple. This drama is particularly fun if you want to get experience with some regional dialects. Yuichi lives in Fukuoka, so you can get a taste of the language spoken in some areas in the southern Kyushu.
Check out the NHK Archives, 100+ Asadora at your fingertips!
Hungry for more? NHK has an archive online of all the past asadoa that exist in record. With over 100 different series available, you can really get a sense of the different styles and storytelling of each respective decade in Japan. (We’re a big fan of the hairstyles in the 80s!) Check out the NHK archive here and let us know in the comments what your favorite asadora is!
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